Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dominant Narration

According to the latest edition (May 2010) of The Writer there are 10 Fiction Pitfalls. Okay, this is according to Sam McCarver who happens to be a writing instructor. I'm not going to list all 10 pitfalls, at least not today. No, today, dear lucky readers of this blog, I'm going to focus on pitfall #2! Yup, #2!

According to Mr. McCarver, Pitfall #2 is: don't let narration dominate your story as a whole.

In his words . . .

Many writers think a story should be largely narrated, in the manner of classic literature. But here's a good rule: Fight the urge to narrate. Entertainment today is visual - movies, television, the Internet, cell phones. To compete, fiction must also be visual, using scenes, action, description and dialogue to show a story, rather than narration to tell it. A Story should consist of one scene following another, connected by narration. Write your story as if it will become a movie. Show it visually - in scenes. (p. 26)

Whoa! First, initial thought: show don't tell! Now, haven't we all heard that somewhere before? Of course we have. It's one of the many rules of writing. SHOW - DON'T - TELL!!

Okay, now that I've gotten past my whoa moment.

This is how I write. I'm more about the snappy dialogue, short scenes that carry the reader from one moment to the next to the next to the next, with shorter passages of narration in between. This is what works for me as a writer. Who knew I was doing something right? Ha!

Now, in no way am I saying or even suggesting that writers abandon narration. Guy Gavriel Kay writes some brilliant narration. The majority of his books are narrative in nature and I wouldn't have his books any other way. I love his long passages of narration that wrap around me like a comfortable blanket and lull me into a comfortable world of narration. This is what works for him. This isn't what works for me.

My only point with this post is to talk about what works for me when I'm writing. Yeah, I have narrative passages, but normally, I have more dialogue than narration. I love me some good dialogue.

How about you? More narration than dialogue? More scenes than narration? More this instead of that? Come on, leave your answers in the comments section.


Okay, since I'm feeling generous. The #1 Pitfall: don't put extensive backstory in your first pages. There, I shared! Tune in later this week for another pitfall and my take on said pitfall!


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with you. I'm more about dialogue than narration. My eyes glaze over when I hit long stretches (even if it's just one long paragraph) of narration. Fortunately it's not a problem in most YA novels, which is all I read.

Claire Dawn said...

My first drafts have a lot of narration, but it gets whittled to down to almost pure action in edits.

I realise more and more that's what I like to read, and so it needs to be what I write as well.

Bossy Betty said...

ThanksI I tend to do both of these!

SJDuvall said...

I have a very snappy narrative style (at least, I'd like to think so). I prefer scenes that move quickly. Stop and smell a rose, take in how the air feels against the protagonist's skin and move on. I love dialogue as well. But for me, it really depends on the story and the POV. If it's third person, I use more dialogue. It's funny, but as first person, I use less. Probably because the narrator is speaking the whole book. What is noticed or not noticed, says something about character (not about the author).

Can't wait to hear what you have to say about #1. I certainly know how I feel about that one. :)

Lady Glamis said...

Ah, RULES. I shun them, I say! SHUN THEM!

Okay, got that out.

No, I think he has a good point about narration, but you know, if we all write the same, where is the fun in that? I like narration in novels if it's done well, and if the story works better with it than without it. I think every writer and work is unique. If it calls for narration, I would hope a writer wouldn't avoid that completely just because they've heard a "rule" or strong suggestion about it somewhere.

Like SJ, I'm interested to see what you say about #1. I've had some interesting experiences with that one. :)

Scott said...

Stina - I think whatever works best for a writer is what they should do. I'm more than likely to skip really long narrative passages.

Claire - first drafts are first drafts and, normally, look nothing like the end result. At least that's my experience.

Bossy Betty - you're such the multi-tasker!

SJ - I agree, first person tends toward more narrative, third person toward more dialogue. I think it's the nature of the beast.

Lady Glamis - I'm with you on rules. I really did this post because I found it really interesting that someone was pretty much saying 'down with narrative'! Ha! Narrative done well is great, and thus my reference to Guy Gavriel Kay. He's a master at narrative, and dialogue. I guess I'll have to do a post about #1, even though I wasn't going to, but since the followers (well, 2 of you) are showing interest . . . : )

Jemi Fraser said...

I prefer a lot of dialogue too. I think my characters come to life best when they're talking.